July 2004 - Working environments
What do you need
when you go to work every day? Are you happy enough
with a cubicle and a chair or would you prefer
an office with a view from the window, lawns with
deckchairs, a lake and a sports arena?
What about dropping
your keys off at reception so you can have your
car washed and polished or being able to order
groceries to be delivered to your car boot or
booking a massage at your desk in the afternoon?
How about social
events every Friday lunchtime and sports leagues
shared with neighbouring companies? Maybe you
would appreciate a choice of work-based evening
classes? Perhaps a giant toy box in reception
packed with games and goodies would help you while
away your lunch hour?
If you think
I am getting a little carried away with a recipe
for employee-cosseting on a grand scale, think
again. All these benefits and more are provided
for people who work at Chiswick Park, the 33-acre
business park in west London being developed by
Stanhope and designed by the Richard Rogers Partnership.
The first two
phases of the park have been completed, with all
but one of the six buildings fully let. The central
features of the development are already in place
and work on the final two phases begins in the
autumn. The most innovative concept underpinning
the park, however, is not the physical landscaping
or the design but a branded, employee-focused
service aimed at creating contented, productive
called Enjoy-Work, is based on the theory that
happy workers do better work. The friendly atmosphere
starts at the entrance with yellow-shirted support
staff. Most business parks would refer to these
people as security guards and the on-site companies
as tenants. Chiswick Park calls its tenants "guests"
and its security team "guest support".
These hotel service
undertones are no accident. Kay Chaston, chief
executive of Chiswick Park Estate Management,
whose job is to deliver and develop the Enjoy-
Work concept, has a career background, not in
human resources management, but in the hotel industry.
This explains why each reception desk is equipped
with the kinds of odds and ends you would expect
the concierge to produce in a five-star hotel:
sticking plasters, glue, needles and thread, shoe
polish, and so on. They even have a fleet of free
trying to create something here that recognises
that the war for talent is over. The employees
have won the argument and those who can supply
the best talent are adding true value to an organisation.
But people need support and our job is to reduce
the hassle for those who work here," says
All the services
are listed on the Enjoy-Work intranet which also
includes contact numbers for hand-picked tradespeople
such as electricians, plumbers and decorators.
The estate managers have negotiated discount deals
with some suppliers. Most of the 400 listings
on the intranet are local services - in line with
the park's policy of building strong links with
the Chiswick community. In November, the park
holds a firework display for the whole community
and its businesses are becoming active in supporting
and running local charity events.
The sports programme
has been designed to promote contact between the
different businesses on the site. "A sense
of community doesn't exist in society any more.
How many of us know our neighbours? Yet this is
something intrinsic to the human spirit so we
are developing a sense of community here very
quickly," says Ms Chaston. "Anyone who
comes down to one of the events can join a team
and there is no quicker way to establish relationships
than by playing sports together."
are designated for special events such as a remote-controlled
speed boat competition on the lake, tai chi, fencing
or golf. The complex also includes a gymnasium
and employs a sports coach for consultations on
So why don't
all employers do this kind of thing? Well, many
do. Sports events and in-house services are not
so rare these days in City firms. What sets Chiswick
Park apart is the detail, the variety and the
constant refinement of employee services.
In fact the thinking
behind these policies can be traced back at least
200 years to the textile mill complex established
by Robert Owen in New Lanark. Owen angered his
business partners when he built schools for employees
and their children on plots that had been earmarked
At the time,
Owen recognised his employees as "vital machines".
While today's employers would no longer describe
employees as machines, we still seem prepared
to describe people as "human resources".
in Britain and the US were in the vanguard of
a social welfare movement that established sports
and social clubs to promote health and well-being
among employees. It seems odd, therefore, that
some companies today should be selling off their
old playing fields for development when the most
enlightened planners and designers are trying
to create workplaces with in-built social structures
and sports facilities.
apparently soft centre of these support systems,
however, are measurable advantages for businesses.
When the Disney Corporation came to the Chiswick
site, it expected to lose 5 per cent of its staff
in the move. In the event it lost hardly any.
have moved to the site believe the environment
is an important factor in attracting and retaining
good staff. "It means that people's expectations
have grown. We have a young workforce and for
some people this is their first job. When they
move on they will have quite a shock when they
see what it is like to work elsewhere," says
Andy Porter, resources manager at France Telecom,
one of the businesses on the site.
product development manager in the commercial
development team at Teletext, another of the site's
"guests", says: "I love it here.
I absolutely love it. There are so many little
services they provide to make life easier, such
as umbrellas when it rains and the bikes."
There may be
some who believe that the well-being and leisure
of employees should not be the responsibility
of the employer. But even the most puritanical
of managers must accept that a stimulating workplace
is far more likely to lead to good work than a
job in a dreary office with colleagues who remain
The real test
of developments such as these is maintaining the
commitment to employees when people begin take
the pampering for granted or when money gets tight.
Nearly all the tenants are in expanding information,
media and entertainment businesses prepared to
pay what is needed to retain good people. But
will they pay through any bad times in future?
Who knows? For now, though, there is so much going
on at Chiswick Park, you can't afford not to come
as a pdf file